Becoming More Inclusive

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Port School District offers new special education program

Come September, the Port Washington School District will begin implementing a new inclusion program to help students enrolled in the special education program integrate into the classroom with general education students.

“It’s a new program in the sense that we have the traditional continuum of services for a student with disabilities, we have resource room, we have our small classes, we have functional academic classes, but part of the regulation years ago allowed for this other model called inclusion or integrated teaching,” Dr. Stephanie Allen, Executive Director of Pupil Personnel Services explained.

The idea behind this program is to have two teachers in the classroom, one general education teacher and one special education teacher. Approximately one-third of the students in the classroom would be classified with IEP’s and the other two thirds would be comprised of general education students.

“The two teachers themselves co-teach, co-plan and co-assess—they are really interchangeable so that they are able to meet the needs of all the students in the classroom,” Dr. Allen said. “It also helps us in the world of special education of keeping our students in the least restrictive environment, which is always what we want. We want to keep them as close to the general education population and accessing the general ed curriculum as much as possible.”

Dr. Allen stated that this program allows the special education students to remain in a typical classroom setting, rather than being pulled out of the classroom to receive individualized assistance, paving the way for more socialization, inclusion, diversity and acceptance.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Hynes stated that the school district is working towards improving their vision and mission statement, with a focus on being more inclusive.

“Part of our new vision and mission is being more inclusive and making sure that things are more equitable for our students as far as opportunities,” Dr. Hynes said. “This is a major commitment—over two years it will cost close to a million dollars in order to make this happen. But this is something we have been looking to do for the past two years. It allows us to focus on how we can bring back our students who are placed out of district, how we [can] create programs to bring them back to our school district and then to potentially focus on our students who are already here in self-contained classes—who are in the most restrictive environments within the school district and bring them potentially into our inclusion classes.”

This inclusion model is already being implemented at the middle school and high school, but the district is looking to extend this model to their elementary school programs.

“This offers the opportunity for some students to stay in the classroom, instead of being pulled out so often,” Dr. Allen explained.

The process to implement this program throughout all the grades will take approximately two years as training plays a major part in implementing the program.

“We have not had inclusion at the elementary level in eight years,” Dr. Allen explained. “We had it in the past but it was dismantled for some reason. So we need time to train the teachers and we need time also to identify the students. The target grades for next year are 2, 3 and 4. The second year would be K-1, and the five cohort would just move up from fourth grade.”

This will give the teachers ample opportunity to assess the students that are in pre-school, kindergarten and first grade to help determine what their academic needs are before they are potentially placed into this inclusion program.

“This has been a long time coming, the federal funds that we have received have allowed us to put this on the front burner,” Dr. Hynes said. “We are spending a lot of our money to help kids and this is just one facet of it.”

Aside from the inclusion program, the district is also working on a number of key aspects for the upcoming school year. The district hired a new community liaison social worker for students and their families that need extra support.

“It is one of things I’ve heard many times since I’ve been here in two years,” Dr. Hynes said. “There’s a disconnect between families out in the community, all these wonderful agencies—but there is no centralization as far as if parents need assistance. There was no one person here to assist them and now we will have that.”

The district is also planning to focus on their English-Language Arts (ENL) students at Schreiber and how they can better assist them. The district is hiring a dedicated bilingual counselor who will be able to better support students and their families.

Dr. Hynes stated that the district is also looking at how they can increase their graduation rate, which hovers between 93 and 95 percent.

“Our graduation rate is not where it should be,” Dr. Hynes admitted. “When you dig deeper into the data, some of our subgroups are not graduating—we are really targeting extra support there both internally and externally to make sure they do. There is no bigger sin in the world than a student not graduating from high school.”

The district also plans to increase the number of social workers at the middle school and ENL counselors to work with bilingual students and their families for the upcoming school year. Additionally, the district will be adding four more Academic Intervention Support (AIS) teachers to help assist students who are struggling as a result of the pandemic.

“With all of these supports coming in, if I was to predict in five years we will be close to 99 percent or 100 percent graduation rate,” Dr. Hynes said. “That is the absolute goal of my incredible team here and the Board of Education.”

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